We all know it’s important to keep communication open with our teens. But what if your teenager stops talking to you?
Here’s how you might be part of the problem without even realising it!
It can be tough when our teens stop talking to us. While it’s a normal part of development for teenagers to become more independent, it’s natural to worry about how our teens are going – and even harder when they won’t tell us about their world.
So why do teenagers stop talking, and what can you do to open up communication?
Why talking to your teen matters
We all remember how exciting and challenging teenage years can be! And as parents, we want to help our children grow into happy, healthy adults. Psychologist and teen expert Davina Donovan told Mum Central that talking with our teens is critical during these years.
Too many families are disconnected and increasing numbers of teenagers are struggling with anxiety, depression, running away from home, dying by suicide and getting caught up in unsafe activities.” Davina Donovan
Davina said the teens she works with often reveal secrets they are keeping from their parents – and it’s not always what parents would expect. Parents are often surprised that their teens aren’t talking to them about feeling lonely even when around friends and family, feeling invisible and having feelings of low self-esteem, despite their parents saying positive things.
The secrets our teens are keeping are often not what we’d expect” Davina Donovan
As our teenagers venture out into the world, it’s more important than ever for parents to stay connected. Much like when they were young, your teen still needs a safe home base to return to, even if sometimes it doesn’t seem like it!
We need to be there to help them navigate life and issues they may face like bullying, sexting and mental health. Teenage years are also a critical time to maintain those attachments to family, which continue to be important throughout our grown-up lives.
Why do teens stop talking?
As Davina shared with Mum Central, it’s a very normal stage of development for teenagers to start finding their own identity. They do this by drawing away, seeking independence and looking outwards to determine who they want to become. They look to the media, friends and exploring the world to start to know who they are separate from their family. Friends, in particular, become really important as they are at the same age, doing and experiencing the same things.
How parents can be part of the problem
Every parent wants the best for their children. But sometimes they can be causing more harm than good, without even realising it.
Parents don’t realise how their behaviour unintentionally causes harm.” Davina Donovan
Davina told Mum Central that some parenting behaviours can cause teenagers to not want to talk to them, particularly:
- Not validating or dismissing a teenager’s feelings: We often do this by accident, but it can really impact teens by making them feel not worthy, not good enough or that you aren’t really interested and there for them. This can make your teen shut down or withdraw.
- Overreacting to what your teen tells you: Parenting teens is tough. But Davina urges parents to regulate their feelings, so that you can respond thoughtfully, rather than react. Overreacting with anger or disappointment can stop your teen from opening up again and make them keep things from you in the future, because they feel that they can’t trust you or are afraid of the consequences.
- Feeling unnoticed for their good qualities. Davina said this is another common one parents might not even realise they are doing. While as parents we want to keep our kids safe, and so naturally see the dangers our teens might not, we must be careful not to always point out the negative. So if your teen gets a C on an exam, rather than immediately pointing out that they should have tried harder, try to focus on the positives, such as the effort and dedication they showed in studying.
- Not seeing the person underneath the behaviour. If you are criticising or praising your teen, make sure to be genuine and really see the human they are underneath. Rather than a ‘good job’, try going deeper such as ‘well done on the effort you put in, I could see how hard you tried’.
How to talk with your teen
When talking with your teen, it can be hard to know what to say and when to say it. So how do you navigate conversations so your teen keeps talking to you? Davina’s top tips are:
- Start open. Often we go on the attack, interrogating our teens. Try instead to start open, without assumptions, making broad “I’ve noticed” or “How’s everything going for you” statements. Think of it like a hug – starting with wide open arms and slowly, gently closing in to more specific questions.
- Be a safe place. Davina described teenagers as shiny Ferraris – all ready to go but without the brakes of an adult’s developed pre frontal cortex. They will make mistakes. We need to be their safe place to debrief and process their big feelings. Hold space, allow them to express themselves without being criticised or dismissed. Using words like “Thankyou for telling me”, “I’m really glad you came to me” and “let’s talk about it together” can help.
- Don’t dismiss your teen’s feelings. Just because something seems trivial to you, remember that you have many years more experience at navigating life and may have a very different perspective. Your teen’s experience is still real and valid.
- Focus on values. Saying things like “wow that was really kind” helps reinforce values, rather than just rewarding behaviours.
- Try not to overreact to disclosures. This is a tough one! Remember we all make mistakes. And that your teenager is tightly tuned to your reaction because of their connection to you. We want our teens to feel safe to tell us anything. That means being in control of the way you respond.
- Repair. If you’ve said the wrong thing, own it and apologise. Teens love it when you are authentic – and are quick to pick up when you aren’t!
You remain an important part of your teenager’s life – even if they don’t always show it. Keeping communication open will help you and your teen now, and in the years to come.